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Frida Kahlo Reflection

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Jake Leon

AH 333


Frida Kahlo Reflection

        Frida Kahlo’s art is inspired by a fusion of Mexican, European, and Spanish art that helped mold her seemingly naive folk art style. Although simple at first glance, her work is complemented with her indigenous identity and surrealistic and spiritual elements. Mexican portraiture had an essence of spirit and tradition evident in Kahlo’s early portraits. European modernist art included heavy Catholic religious’ symbolism in which Kahlo utilizes her own Mexican heritage and culture. Kahlo’s Mexican imagery and identity is greatly drawn from Spanish colonial paintings. These comparisons will be discussed to better understand Frida’s development and expansion as a Mexican artist.

        Kahlo’s interest in Mexican portraiture and retablo painting influenced her traditional and simplistic style. Retablo painting uses the devotional iconography from traditional Catholic church art and portraiture incorporates an authentic, loose immediacy. These elements are seen in Kahlo’s portraits and her painterly, intimate compositions. The identification seen in European models is echoed in Kahlo’s self-portraits where she includes Mexican clothing and accessories while still including the rigid and stiff articulation of the subject. She typically conveys a juxtaposition of American industrialization and Mexican indigenous culture.

        Another style Kahlo borrows from is European modernist art. The symbolic and fantastical nature demonstrated during that period lends to her imaginative and inspirational qualities. In her “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird,” she alters Catholic religious’ symbolism mixed with Aztec mythological elements. In accordance with the European styles, her backgrounds are more imaginative than realistic providing her more freedom to instill a cultural context to the subject. There are elements of a cutout or collage portrayals that further enhance this context and expand her questions of identity and idealism.

        Although Kahlo’s multicultural background utilized different cultures, Mexican imagery is most prominent in her work reflected in Spanish colonial painting. Typically commissioned for churches, Frida’s Mesoamerican spiritual symbolism features replace the Catholic religious’ symbolism. In Kahlo’s “My Nurse and I,” the mysterious and peculiar image depicts Kahlo, in similar miraculous circumstances seen in colonial religious works, as a baby nursing from her Mesoamerican ancestor or also known as mother earth. This further affirms her strong Mexican identity in the Mexicanidad movement emblematic of Mexican indigenous traditions and culture.

         Frida Kahlo’s work is undeniably innovative and imaginative, yet uses several sources of artistic inspiration. The combination of autobiographical components and mixed use of realism and fantasy develop a distinct influence in Mexican popular culture. There is also an uncompromising representation of feminist nature and political statements included in her work. Her paintings often have an ambiguous meaning that raise questions of gender, class, and race in Mexican society. Kahlo’s complex iconography and surrealist approach cement her as one of the most celebrated Mexican artists.



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